March 7: old manchester

I have been thinking a lot about Manchester recently (certainly on account of reading the Butor novel that uses Manchester as its model for Bleston), thinking of how my memory remembers it from when I was a schoolboy there. We know from Baudelaire that ‘la forme d’une ville change plus vite que le coeur d’un mortel’ (the shape of a town changes quicker than the heart of a mortal being), and Manchester has much changed since those days. Then it was a dark place. To drink after hours you went to the ‘Conti Club’, which despite its sophisticated name and promise of continental, existential conversation, was a grim little room with a bleak bar. The old abandoned Central station waited at the corner of my vision for most of my trips around the town interior and so often I seemed to be picking my way across sites strewn with bricks and broken glass which had remained wasteland since the war. The pubs were men’s places with pictures of naked women on the walls (‘Tommy Ducks’) or isolated places with a reputation for good bitter (Wilsons at The ‘Peverel on the Peak’). The Peverel still existed a couple of years back, still somehow on the margin of the city. Old Manchester was a rough, knockabout place. These days new nomenclature has sprung up for these old broken bits of city. There is the so-called ‘Northern Quarter’ where once there was a grid of rugged streets where you might come up against a gang of skinheads or football hooligani. Good, but not the town I knew. When people ask me where I am from I cannot say Manchester because it is not the same place. I do not know it. No place is ever the same. It is a place of the imagination as much as Bleston, scarred with long, fragile daddy-long-legged bus routes and recs.

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